Fenton stars ready for return to battle
Hennessy the target for Thurles-bound Last Instalment
MULTIPLE Grade One winners Last Instalment and Dunguib are set to return from their prolonged lay-offs next week.
Last Instalment has been pencilled in for Thursday week's Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles ahead of a potentially fascinating return to the big time in the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Dunguib, the Carrick-on-Suir handler's sensational 2009 Cheltenham bumper hero, is to make his comeback from injury in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas two days later.
However, as an 11-year-old without a run for three years, expectations for Dunguib are more muted than for the two-year younger Last Instalment, which completed a Grade One double at Leopardstown in February 2012.
"It has been a case of so far so good with both of them," said Philip Fenton yesterday, before adding of his Gigginstown House Stud-owned unbeaten chaser: "If Last Instalment's legs allow him, with a bit of luck he still has it in him to compete at the top. I have been absolutely delighted with him.
"Davy Russell had a sit on him a couple of weeks back and he was very happy with him -- very happy."
With the champion jockey since demoted from his role as Gigginstown's No 1, such an upbeat report will be music to the ears of his successor Bryan Cooper, who saw the firm's 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Sir Des Champs ruled out for the season the same day that he was formally promoted.
However, Cooper has spoken in glowing terms of First Lieutenant's Hennessy prospects, so it isn't inconceivable that Russell could yet be reunited with Last Instalment.
Leopardstown's marquee Grade One is scheduled for February 9 and Fenton feels that the 24-day gap after the Thurles Grade Two gives Last Instalment a fighting chance of lining up for his first major test since jarring both tendons during his Dr PJ Moriarty triumph under Russell two years ago.
"He should probably have just enough time to recover," he asserted.
"If not, we'd consider something like the Red Mills Chase (at Gowran Park on February 15) instead, but it will be great to have him back either way. It was a blow to be missing him for so long. He looked the real deal."
A 50/1 shot to cap a fairytale comeback with Cheltenham Gold Cup glory, Last Instalment slammed First Lieutenant by six lengths under Brian O'Connell in the Grade One three-mile novice chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting in 2011 after Russell opted to ride the eventual runner-up.
Cooper developed a fine rapport with First Lieutenant last term, though it was David Casey who steered him into the runner-up berth for a third successive time -- and a second in the Lexus Chase -- in a Leopardstown Grade One when thwarted by Bobs Worth over Christmas.
Reflecting on the performance of the Mouse Morris-trained nine-year-old, Cooper said: "He ran a cracker. He is one of my favourite horses in training -- he's so tough. He went to Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown and ran great races each day and I think if he goes to the Hennessy, he should be the one to beat, hopefully."
Of Last Instalment, he added: "He has kind of been half-forgotten about but if he makes it back to the level he was at as a novice, he's definitely one to look forward to."
Fenton, who stressed that he would see how Dunguib fared at Naas before making further plans for him, also spoke enthusiastically of his new stable star The Tullow Tank.
Deeply impressive in securing back-to-back Grade One novice hurdles, the Barry Connell-owned six-year-old will seek to complete a hat-trick at the highest level for Danny Mullins in the Deloitte on the Hennessy card.
The son of Oscar will step up to two-and-a-quarter miles for a first time in the €80,000 contest, which his shrewd handler hopes will help clarify which of the two traditional Cheltenham Festival novice hurdles to target.
"We'll see, but he will have entries in both (Cheltenham) races," said Fenton. "Danny Mullins is adamant we should stick to two miles, though my own gut feeling is that maybe we should go a bit further with him. But maybe Danny is right, and we'll learn more in the Deloitte."
From two hurdles and a bumper last term, the horse named after his original Irish rugby international part-owner Sean O'Brien managed just a solitary Fairyhouse bumper win in March.
However, Fenton says that The Tullow Tank has matured spectacularly since.
"I wouldn't say he was fragile-looking last year, but he was lean," he explained. "It's amazing what the summer did for him. Now he looks appropriately named, but he didn't look anything like a rugby player before.
"He is a flaking horse now -- strong and solid looking. He is thriving, and he has great reserves -- a reserve tank that delivers. He actually thrives on being asked for more in a race."
Fenton admitted that he "missed the other two boys until this fellow came along", but his resurgent Tipperary yard is in a fine place now with all three fit for battle.
Throw in the smart dual bumper scorer Value At Risk -- "he'll go to Cheltenham if the ground is genuinely good to soft or softer" -- and there are few operations of such modest proportions that can boast so many reasons to be cheerful.